Voting Rights Under Attack

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (ebjohnson.house.gov)
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (ebjohnson.house.gov)

By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

A well-respected group of Democrats and Republicans in Washington are in agreement that the federal government is doing very little to protect the voting rights of minority voters in the United States. Describing the government’s refusal to enable its citizens to participate in fair elections, the Commission on Civil Rights, in a recently released report, characterized the electoral climate as dangerous and pernicious.

Created in 1957, the eight-member panel investigates civil rights issues in the United States and recommends measures that it deems necessary to correct injustice. The current Commission consists of six Democrats and two Republicans, and each of them agreed with the report’s conclusions that the state of voting rights was blatantly unfair.

The U.S Department of Justice hinders the rights of minority voters, said Catherine E. Lhamon, an attorney, and veteran government official who chairs the Commission. Ms. Lhamon said that the Justice Department had failed in its responsibility to protect minority voting rights.

Among its recommendations, the Commission urges the strengthening of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was severely weakened in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to preclude the Justice Department from stopping what it considered unconstitutional voting procedures passed by state legislatures.

The Court’s decision in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, allowed states such as Texas to pass restrictive voter ID laws designed to weaken the voting strength of racial minorities, students and persons with disabilities.

Other states controlled by Republican legislators have passed legislation such as the one enacted in Texas in efforts  to deny Democratic majorities in voting, knowing full-well that minorities, students and the disabled  tend to vote for the Democrat Party because of its progressive stance on issues, and its history of being the party of civil rights!

The nearly 500 page report points out that in the last five years sixty-one law suits have been filed challenging Voter ID laws and other restrictive measures. Its members bemoan the lack of sensitivity by Attorney General Jeff Sessions whose commitment to civil rights was challenged during his confirmation hearings by Congressman John Lewis, Senator Cory Booker and a plethora of fairness advocates who believe that Sessions is vested in seeing a dilution in minority voting participation.

Under Attorney General Sessions, the Justice Department has failed U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin and the handicapped, according to the Commission’s report. It cites that state officials in Florida recently had to be taken to court to ensure that voting materials were provided to Spanish-speaking voters.

The Commission also was alarmed that the Justice Department seemed to ignore the special needs of handicapped voters by not insisting that voting places be equipped with ramps, assisting disabled people access to voting booths without difficulty.

The Commission’s report is timely with a major national election just days away. It should give those who find the practices of some state legislatures disgusting the encouragement to vote, to urge their friends and relatives to vote, and to participate in the correction of our local, state and federal governments!

This article originally appeared in the Dallas Post Tribune

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